The former head of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Kanagawa chapter, Hachiro Okonogi, is “in the driver’s seat” to win this month’s Yokohama election, potentially spelling the end of the city’s IR dream according to local industry consultancy Bay City Ventures.
The upcoming mayoral election, to take place on 22 August, is the topic of a new report published by the consultancy and its Managing Director, Joji Kokuryo, after the city confirmed on Sunday its final list of eight candidates.
Of those eight, six are running on an anti-IR platform with only incumbent mayor Fumiko Hayashi and fellow independent Mineyuki Fukuda supporting the LDP’s IR stance.
However, it is the battle between Hayashi, a driving force behind Yokohama’s IR bid, and Okonogi, who has pledged to call the bidding process off should he win, that has garnered most attention.
According to Kokuryo, recent comments made by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in support of Okonogi and revelations that most of the LDP’s city council members will fall on Okonogi’s side show the 56-year-old heads into this month’s election as a clear favorite.
“There would not be a Yokohama mayoral election without its most famous active politician, LDP leader Yoshihide Suga,” Kokuryo wrote in his report. “[Suga] recently came out in support of Okonogi in the regional free-newspaper Town News [in which he stated] ‘No other person can become the face of Yokohama like he can. I wholly support him’.”
Kokuryo added, “In an ironic twist, it became clear at a supporters’ meeting on [20 July] that Okonogi will likely garner the support of at least 30 of the 36 council members.
“The remaining six will be putting their powers behind the Hayashi campaign, which also has major economic entities such as the Yokohama Chamber of Commerce on its side.”
Crucially, Kokuryo writes, the “lower the voter turnout, the more important organized votes become. In an age where voter turnout is routinely less than 50%, the organized support and votes from the LDP and its supporters clearly puts Okonogi in the driver seat to become the next mayor of Yokohama.”
It is, however, unclear exactly what a negative election result would mean for Yokohama’s remaining IR candidates, Genting Singapore and Melco Resorts, in the long term. As Kokuryo observes, Okonogi is one of three candidates to have expressed opposition to an IR in regard to this month’s election but is not necessarily opposed in the long term. Only 48-year-old Takeharu Yamanaka, 63-year-old Shigefumi Matsuzawa and 75-year-old Masataka Ota have stated that casinos must be stopped at all costs, with Yamanaka describing them as “a poison apple”.
There are also a whole raft of other key issues that could determine how the public votes on 22 August, with Kokuryo rating “The economic future of Yokohama” as the most critical. Aside from IRs, improvements for children and the elderly, digitalization of information and environmental issues are also seen as important issues that could affect the vote.